Residents in one independent seniors living facility were busy rolling up their sleeves on Wednesday to get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Residents and staff at Gilmore Gardens are “very, very happy” about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this week, according to Lynn Van de Kamp, assistant general manager at the facility.
About 170 residents and staff were scheduled to receive the vaccine on Wednesday, she explained, saying it feels like they’re reaching a milestone.
But, despite being vaccinated, Van de Kamp said they will continue to adhere to COVID-19 protocols until directed otherwise.
“We have not been given any direction to ease up on restrictions or safety protocols (after the vaccine),” she said.
Independent living facilities will be immunized for COVID-19 over the next couple weeks, followed by seniors in the community, starting aged 90 and older.
By mid-April, mass vaccination clinics are expected to be set up for the general population, administered by age in five-year increments but also to people aged 16 and 69 who are “clinically extremely vulnerable,” for example, with some types of cancer or severe respiratory illnesses.
The sped up time table is thanks to the fact the province has extended the time between the first and second doses. This means more people can get their first dose sooner, but won’t be getting their second dose until up to four months later despite the manufacturer’s recommendation of four weeks.
Clinical trials show protection against COVID-19 well above 90 per cent for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after two doses, but, according to VCH, there is a “high degree” of protection about 14 days after the first dose.
This can be seen in the number of cases dropping in long-term care facilities, the first places that received the COVID-19 vaccine.
But the health authority reiterated everyone should, after getting vaccinated, still keep washing their hands, wearing a mask, physically distancing and staying home if sick.
Van de Kamp said she doesn’t expect any changes to these protocols, either from the province or from their parent company, Verve, any time soon, although, she added, they are looking forward to seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Verve Senior Living is a for-profit company that also owns Courtyard Gardens, another seniors’ residence in Richmond, along with other residences across Canada.
Age-based community vaccine rollout
While seniors living in residences are being vaccinated this week, seniors 90 years and older living throughout the community, as well as Indigenous seniors 65 years and older, can start calling next week (March 8) to book their COVID-19 vaccines for the following week, starting Monday, March 15.
Both the call centre and the clinics will have service in different languages, explained Bob Chapman, one of the leads for VCH’s vaccine rollout.
Penny Ballem, provincial immunization response team coordinator, at a press briefing on Monday, urged people to only call if eligible in order not to overwhelm the system.
After the first group, seniors aged 85 to 89 years old will follow — booking starting on March 15 and vaccines administered starting March 22 — and those 80 and older the following weeks.
The number to call in Vancouver Coastal Health is 1-877-587-5767.
When calling, seniors need to give their first and last name, date of birth, postal code and personal health number.
The province and health authorities are currently trying to secure facilities for large-scale vaccination clinics which are expected to start April 12.
Chapman said VCH has reached out to many organizations that deal with seniors to help spread the message about vaccines, but he encouraged everyone to reach out to senior friends, neighbours and relatives to tell them to book appointments or to help them in the process.
“It’s really going to take a community or a village… to support some of these people to ensure that they can get their appointments, and to get to their appointments,” Chapman said.
Currently, family doctors and pharmacists won’t be administering the COVID-19 vaccine, but all GPs are being urged to talk to their patients about signing up for a vaccine.
Chapman said anyone with concerns – for example, if they are on medication – should discuss these with a family doctor or nurse-practioner.
The first clinics for seniors will be open three or four days a week and are being planned close to where seniors live.
When booking, seniors will be able to choose a location that is convenient, for example, if they live in Richmond but have someone to help them who lives on the North Shore, they can book an appointment on the North Shore.
The large immunization clinics planned for April and beyond will be open seven days a week, Chapman explained.
The health authority is trying to secure places that have good transit connections, adequate parking and are accessible.
The facilities need to be spacious to allow for physical distancing, he added.
The province is expecting to administer 400,000 doses in B.C. by early April.
If there are leftover vaccines, VCH said none will go to waste.
Only the amount needed is thawed at the immunization clinic, but if there are any left over at the end of the day, VCH may put out a call to service providers to find eligible people for the vaccine, or the vaccines might be transported to acute care sites to vaccinate health-care workers.
March 8: Seniors born in 1931 or earlier and Indigenous seniors born 1956 or earlier can call to book an appointment; vaccinations starting March 15
March 15: Seniors born in 1936 or earlier can call; vaccinations starting March 22
March 22: Seniors born 1941 or earlier can call; vaccinations starting March 29